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Process Theology and the Problem of Evil

God ‘the fellow-sufferer who understands,’ who does not coerce but merely seeks to persuade other beings in the direction of love, seems profoundly attractive in the light of the Holocaust. The massacre of Jews by a country at the heart of European Christendom stands as a devastating critique of images of God acting in power to bring his kingdom in through his chosen Church.For indications of how theologians have tried to respond to this critique see Fiddes, 1989, 3-5, Surin, K, Theology and the Problem of Evil (Oxford: Blackwells, 1986) pp116-32 and references therein.Process schemes subvert the notion of the omnipotence of God, and therefore escape some of these tensions.

The extent to which process theodicy is a satisfactory resource for addressing human-inflicted evil is crisply addressed by SurinSurin, 1986, 86-92 who doubts whether it is enough to tell the victim of torture that there is a passive fellow-suffering God who understands. Where process schemes are at their strongest is in offering a single account of human-inflicted evil and so-called ‘natural evil’ (such as earthquakes) - in both cases ‘evil’ arises from conflicts between the desire of different entities for self-actualisation. God lovingly suffers with all entities, and retains their experiences in God’s eternal memory, but the process God does not ‘fix’ these conflicts for the benefit of one entity rather than another. Instead God tries to lure all elements towards to the optimal blend of harmony and intensity.This is a particularly tempting scheme for theodicy in respect of evolution - see God, Humanity and the Cosmos pp274-76.See process models of divine action.

Process theology has influenced many thinkers in the science-and-religion debate to a greater or lesser extent. Some have allied themselves explicitly with the process camp, in particular Ian Barbour - also others such as Charles Birch, John Cobb, and Jay McDaniel.See Barbour (1998), Birch, C, and Cobb JB, The Liberation of Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), McDaniel, J, Of God and Pelicans (Louisville, Ky: Westminster Press, 1989) Polkinghorne and Peacocke have taken some of the rhetoric of a God who guarantees order and co-operates in the universe’s exploration of possibilities, although neither theologian embraces the process scheme as a whole. See Peacocke and Polkinghorne compared.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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